Data-centre Versus Coca-Cola?

Published on 24th January 2013 by Ian Bitterlin

The internet is a wondrous thing.  You can search for what you want and will probably find that some saddo has got there first and posted the answer to your question, and all our thanks go to them!

Anyway, I am still struggling along with water consumption of data-centres, to the point of contributing draft text for water consumption into the scope of the new international standard ISO/IEC JCT1 SC39 – Resource Efficient Data-Centres.  The bottom line keeps coming down to whether or not the water is potable or grey – but that’s a topic for another day.  One thing I have been researching is for comparison consumption figures from other ‘industries’, on the basis that data-centres are the factories of our digital future where power is converted into digital services, and trying to find those comparisons that are understandable or within imagination.

Until yesterday my favourite was the idea that a facility using adiabatic cooling on air-side economisers will evaporate (use) about 1000 cubic metres of water per year per MW of IT load and that this was equivalent to about 20 domestic dwellings.  Not that bad per MW and, of course, the net water consumption when the lower electrical grid demand is taken into account is positive – as power generation uses more water to generate the power than the data-centre uses in cooling.  Hence back to the ‘potable or grey’ issue.

However not all the world has flushing toilets and leaky Victorian mains water supply systems so the ’20 homes’ equivalent is a bit narrow minded.  Then bingo! I thought of fizzy drinks.  I have travelled around quite a bit and plastic pop bottles seem to have invaded our entire planet.  So, I thought, how would the data-centre industry compare to fizzy-pop production??

From then it was only minutes in Google (others are available) and a napkin scribble to get an answer, or at least the order of an answer.  Off of the front cover of the November edition of FOCUS is the number for world data centre energy, 322TWh (even if the watts is in lower case!).  That is equivalent to 3,675MW of continuous power and if every data-centre used adiabatic cooling at one million litres per MW per year we could say that the data-centres of the globe would use 3.675 billion litres of water.  Now let’s compare that to one of the most water-efficient producers of fizzy-pop on the planet – Coca Cola.  They use 2.5 litres for water to produce one litre of fizzy-pop and, according to the internet source that I found, we drink 130 billion litres of the stuff per year.  So we can compare water for Coke at 325 billion litres to 3.68 billion litres for data-centres – nigh on 1%.  AND they use potable water!

Does that get it any better perspective?  I’ll keep looking…  



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Prof. Ian Bitterlin is the Chief Technology Officer for Emerson Network Power – the world leader in data-centre power and cooling infrastructure solutions and integrated DCIM software. Recognized in the industry as an expert mechanical and electrical engineer, Ian has produced numerous wh ... More

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